Tag Archives: justice

Day 27: How Is Your Culture (and Are You) Treating Homosexuality and LGBTQ Population?

14 Mar

While visiting my grandparents in the province, I have had to travel to a place where I have limited internet access. I apologize for the delays, but there is no way that I would give up on the last 4 days of my blogging project, so don’t worry J. What I ended up doing, instead of writing, was reading lots of articles, way more than I usually would, because I still had some internet access through my phone. And I thought a lot about how I could connect those to my writing, and here’s one topic that I will talk about today.

I ran into a very interesting article on the LA Times, which featured a Korean actor, Hong Seok-Cheon. He is not one of those Korean drama stars, but he has acted in many series acting in supporting roles. What is so significant about this guy is the fact that he has been an openly gay public figure since 2000.

You may think, so what? If so, good for you, since it may mean that you don’t really feel any prejudice against homosexual entertainers and individuals alike around you. Or maybe you just think that that’s an irrelevant topic to you, although you may feel a slight discomfort with the subject and want to avoid discussing about it. Or maybe you just feel pure disgust by even thinking about it. Within Korean culture, which is still very much conservative at its core (although it has been changing quite rapidly), being openly gay means risking everything in your life. It was even worse about a decade ago when Mr. Hong came out, especially as a public figure.

Hong had to have a press conference as he could not live in the dark (“in the closet”) anymore. He wanted to be someone who he really is, and that is all he asked for, but to make it so public, I am sure it required extraordinary courage. He was on several shows, but he was kicked out immediately. According to the article, he remembers it as the moment where everyone turned back against him, and he even received many death threats. I still remember his “coming-out” event which happened when I was in middle school. It was a shock to me at first, but then I never gave it a serious thought about what kind of impact it would have on the individual and the society as a whole. I was simply too young, while I was living a “normal” life as a majority in which everyone I knew was living a heterosexual middle class life.

Then several years later, I attended a camp called AnyTown during high school in the States. It was a camp to expose teenagers to diverse cultures and social challenges (racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, etc.) so that they can build up more tolerant and vibrant future. I was attending a private school, and it was a privileged environment where I didn’t necessarily experience much diversity. However, AnyTown totally changed my view towards the world as I was exposed to a huge range of social issues besides racism, which I was already interested in. It was my first time to make friends with people who were of LGBTQ origins and to learn about them. Previously, it was not an issue that I had to deal with or was concerned about, because I didn’t have to as a heterosexual female. And the only issue that I had to deal with was mainly related to that of race, being a racial and linguistic minority in the US. But being in the same small group with them, sharing meals, chats and tears, and discussing about intensely personal issues, I became very much aware about the challenges that my friends had to go through in the conservative social norms and hatred-driven (and unreasonable) views towards them. I became a totally different 16-year-old by accepting the diversity that is beyond black and white racial dynamics.

I really believe that anybody can overcome her/his ignorance if s/he is willing to acknowledge the ignorance and prejudices from it. However, I really (and sadly) think that not many people have the ability and courage to do so. Instead, many people learn to dislike/hate others first in the midst of hugely competitive era, where everyone must be a winner of some sort while oppressing those who have some level of disadvantage in the society (whether that be race, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical disability, etc). I cannot help but think that we all end up hating ourselves in the midst of the ugly fight, and then hate others even more, just fulfilling a terrible cycle.

Mr. Hong does not have to suffer such extreme hatred anymore. He is now back on TV and is a successful restaurant owner. His restaurant is very famous for the great food and atmosphere, and people want to meet him. He takes picture with the people and proudly walks around the restaurant asking people if the food is alright. Just like a normal person. Nowadays in Korea, I heard that there are even some cable TV channel and social network celebrities who have marketed their “gayness” so well that people actually think that their being gay is actually very “cool.” But there was also an incident about a year ago when a Korean drama series featured a gay couple, many organizations, including national parents’ associations and Christian associations, put a huge ad on a major newspaper saying that “SBS (the broadcasting company which aired the drama) should be responsible if our children die of AIDS.” The advertisement wrongly claimed that the series will make the children want to become homosexual, which is wrong apparently (and where did they get the idea that being homosexual will directly cause AIDS?). Well, have they ever thought that many Korean dramas featuring divorces and couples cheating on each other were actually giving more unhealthy examples of relationships and challenging social norms hence they would be more harmful to their children? Of course, the very same people have not said a word about the influences of such Korean dramas. At least the gay couple in that particular drama actually had a very healthy relationship. What is more family-friendly in this case? Take that.

And for God’s sake, no one has the right to judge someone, because s/he is in love. And everyone should support love, no? Cultures are their to change, so shift your prejudices NOW.

Day 24: ALL Women Deserve Some Time Off, including Domestic Workers

9 Mar

I hope that everyone celebrated the International Women’s Day yesterday. And celebrating this, I spent all day with the most important woman in my life, my grandmother, hence the no writing again… But I have thought about today’s topic long and hard over the past 2 days, and hope this makes sense. Some information is obtained from my research for my master’s thesis, so hope you are OK with the “no source” fact for some numbers and such.

Imagine this. In the 21st century, you are living in one of the richest countries in the world (GDP-wise). Your pay is roughly about 80 cents in USD an hour. And your job is practically being on call 24/7 to take care of every bit of a family’s business, from cleaning to playing with young children to taking care of the elderly to cooking to carrying the teenage daughter’s backpack to school (while the girl would be looking into her iPhone).

These are the labor conditions of 200,000+ women from many countries (the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, India, etc.) working as domestic workers in Singapore. Many women leave their family members (including their children and elderly parents) in order to take care of other people’s families so that the dollars they earn can support their own families back home. Most of them earn somewhere between 400-600 SGD (319-478.50 USD), and most amount is sent back to their families for food, education and other basic necessities. Their remittances have not only been essential for their own families but also for their countries’ economic development. And this economic trend of labor migration is not likely to stop in this globalizing world.

Hence, the recent legislation of mandatory day-off in Singapore (starting in 2013) was a move to the right direction, although it is much delayed. It is probably not the “perfect legislation” which will solve all the problems that have existed regarding employment of domestic workers, but I am sure this will prompt better labor practices starting at every home in Singapore which gets help from domestic helpers.

After this announcement was made, obviously some citizens were very unhappy. There were several reasons why I was more than infuriated when I read the opinion of a particular Singaporean citizen on this issue. He is basically claiming that giving maids a day off a week will 1. bring negative impacts on families while there is barely enough hands to maintain the current difficulties with families, 2. cause every maid to want a day off, 3. cause the maids to waste their money because they have more opportunities to spend it and 4. cause them to clog the popular tourist destinations (while it will clearly give bad impression on foreign visitors).

Let me just say this. He (although I’m not sure about the person’s gender) is a privileged racist, sexist and classist. I’m gonna go one by one from the list.

1. The truth of the matter is that many house chores can be manageable even without extra help from maids, except in special cases. The reason why the domestic labor without domestic workers seems so impossible is because there is no fair labor division within the household to begin with. It is likely that the female partner is the only person who has to take care of all the domestic chores with the helper, while the male partner barely does anything, if the family cannot manage a single day a week without the helper’s magic touch.

2. Yes, they will want a day off, and what is the problem? Don’t you, as the employer, have 2 days off while working more or less a regular shift (OK, if you are a workaholic, you probably have almost no day off)? Why shouldn’t someone who has a job working for your family, although it may not be as prestigious as your own somewhere at the Raffles Place, have a single day off so that she can re-charge and be free from the physical and emotional burdens that she has to bear with? And even without the law, there have been many households who are giving their helpers a day off. Are they having serious family crises, because they are giving a day off? I have yet to hear of a single case like that.

3. Here, you are basically saying that since they are not as educated as you are, they are not capable of spending money wisely. Are you aware of the amount of money that they get in a month? Are you aware that most of it goes back to her family so that they can meet their basic needs? You are probably using the same amount of money to get something that is not as meaningful, perhaps a fancy cell phone or a bag.

4. This is just a simple excuse that you want to put on there so that you sound like you are concerned about your own national interest. But the truth is that you just hate the fact that there are a bunch of foreigners (who clearly seem inferior to yourself, you racist) on Orchard Road while you are trying to get to your next destination to spend your precious money. Or maybe you are just blaming your own country that there are not enough place to go for foreign visitors in your island, besides Orchard, a shopping hub.

I don’t mean to demonize all the domestic worker employers or make these workers seem like helpless victims. However, if legal system would continue to justify the violence –which broadly applies to emotional insensitivity such as not giving a single day off in a week— with indifference, as the writer of that opinion piece seems to want, Singapore will eventually have very difficult times having continuous stream of domestic workers. And as the writer seems to know already, they are a very important part of Singapore’s families and economy. I already heard that many women prefer other destinations such as Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc. because the conditions in Singapore are not as favorable.

And more importantly, I really wonder why some people may think that guaranteeing basic human dignity is so troublesome. Below is a note from a current domestic worker on Temasek Times, and hope this makes people think.

Put Yourself in Maid’s Shoes

–       Letter from Bhing Navato

WITH all due respect to employers who are complaining about the weekly day off for maids, as a helper, I ask them: Why not be a maid overseas for a month, away from your family, sometimes forbidden to talk to anyone?

Try living in another family’s home to serve them. Would you work without a rest day? You might think homemaking work is easy but it is not because we are just like you.

We are always thinking of how to please our employers, to ensure our job is done before they come home. We are not robots. We get tired, too. We need rest to relax, to work happily the next day.

If others can give regular days off to their helpers, why can’t you not?

(First posted as a comment at http://www.todayonline.com/voices)

Day 21: A Jerk Like You, Rush

5 Mar

It was not a surprise when Rush Limbaugh, a controversial Republican radio host (who does more harm to Republican’s reputation than good, in my opinion), called Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” as she advocated for extension of health insurance coverage for contraception before the US Congress. He also said that she should post her sex tapes online because she is a “prostitute,” to his eyes at least. Apparently, he went on continuously for a few days, only to make a very hesitant apology just so that he can keep his advertisers from pulling out. You and I know it very well that he didn’t have any sentiment of apologies, and I am rather disgusted by his so-called “sincere apology.”

His comments were not a surprise to me because he has been very good at making hate speeches against women, and there was no way that he was going to avoid insulting about this smart, courageous woman making a case before the Congress of the United States. He is an extremely insecure asshole who has built up his popularity by making uninformed, controversial speeches which can excite misogynist sentiments around the country. He cannot shut up for 3 hours a day, 5 times a week, because he has so much hatred against the world, and he knows that there are lots of horny, unsatisfied dogs like himself all over the country.

Tell me, people, since when did a woman become a public whore by making political statements? And if she was invited by the Congress of the United States of America to present a cause that she advocates for, isn’t she way more legitimate than a radio show host who rambles on about nothing useful? Is free speech available only for jerks like himself but not for smart women?

Does Rush Limbaugh truly understand what contraception means? Sure, as he says, there might be some people would abuse the privilege of health insurance covering birth control means, but these would be unfortunate consequences that would only be a very small part of it. I can only speak from a woman’s standpoint here with my example. I had to take birth control pills for about 4 years of my life until very recently because of my irregular periods with lots of pain and ovarian cists that have continuously existed. If you are a woman, you probably understand how painful it is to spend a week in misery. I had to constantly underperform at school and work one week out of 4 weeks a month (which is 3 months a year total), and if there was no assistance from the medicine, I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been for me. In the US, I could not afford the pills because of the extremely high cost of them. I usually got them in Korea where I can get certain kinds over the counter at pharmacies. Over the 2 years of time that I was in Singapore, the medical insurance that I had covered the price for the pills, and it was tremendously helpful that I could get them. And I reveal my personal health issues without any shame, whether Rush Limbaugh and other misogynist pigs call me a whore or not. There are thousands of other women who are in my position as well as people in other situations where they have to suffer through if they do not have monetary means to pay for them.

I really hope that Limbaugh’s arrogant “apology” would not make any difference in advertisers’ decisions to pull out. A jerk (or any other misogynist pigs, including some liberal commentators) like him does not deserve to earn any dollars as “the most listened radio talk show.”

*I apologize for my language here, if you are offended by any of the word choices.

Day 6: How We Exercise Our Gender and Sexuality Daily- And Un/consciously Choose to Oppress Minorities

17 Feb

Today, I ran into an article on the Huffington Post, written by a writer “Amelia.” She is a regular blogger on HuffPost, and although it was my first time running into her article, I became a huge fan of her writing. I was deeply touched by her courage to make bold social comments by telling the readers very personal stories, and I saw nothing but courage and humanity.

The very article was titled, “When Your 7-Year-Old Son Announces, ‘I’m Gay.’” Some of you may feel uncomfortable, and others may find the degree of courage to tell such a story very touching. Or maybe you feel both ways, and I do hope that what you are feeling is nothing negative. She tells us that her son, after he learned the definition of word “gay,” figured out part of his identity. He tells his parents that he’s gay. Amelia’s (and her husband’s) reaction is something so respectable. She accepts him as he is and lets him know that she loves him no matter what multiple times. However, she also does not forget to warn him about how people in the society may not like that particular part of his identity. In the story, the level of unconditional love as a parent is almost heartbreaking, perhaps because she foresees the difficulties that he may face and has to tell him that people may not like him for who he is.

This article totally reminded me of a Korean television program that I watched recently. It’s a Korean version of Super Nanny, where a child specialist goes into a family of a child that has behavioral problems and advices on good parenting. The very episode that I watched was somewhat disturbing and confusing to me. The specific boy’s family consists of the parents, younger sister (around 3-4 years old maybe) and himself (who seemed to be about 6 years old). The father was away in the Middle East for his work, so he has been mostly absent throughout the boy’s life. The mother was not a very happy person, partly because of the stress coming from the pregnancy of the third child and having to exercise the role of both father and mother. The boy had several behavioral problems, many of them from such family circumstances. One of the problems that was raised was that he liked girly stuff. He likes to play with dolls and stuffed animals (unlike other boys who run around and play with robots and toy guns), fancies skirts (which he had a few), and not aggressive at all even when his younger sister picked up fights.

What bothered me was the child specialist’s evaluation. She said that the boy is at the developmental age when children figures out how boys and girls “should” act differently. She claimed that he “lacks healthy male role model [due to the absence of his father] hence missing out on the opportunity to develop his masculinity during the crucial period.” She then suggested that he learns Taekwondo where he can be surrounded with a bunch of boys and takes the master as his male role model. By showing many feminine characteristics – such as not being able to fight back against his younger sister over a toy, liking the color pink, and liking cleaning the house— the boy, only 6 years old or so, was stigmatized publicly as someone who is in trouble, who is not behaving right.

Yes, the main concern for the specialist and the parents was that he might become a misfit in the conformist society where standing-out is not OK. But by not accepting who he is, by telling him that what he is doing is something shameful and wrong, they are telling a 6-year-old that he must be concerned about how people would perceive him at such a young age, instead of being concerned about learning about and accepting himself. There is also an implicit message that he cannot be loved if he does not act like all the other boys in the society. Isn’t the love from parents supposed to be unconditional? Couldn’t they accept him as who he is and just watch him how he grow as a whole person, someone who loves him as he is?

These got me thinking a lot about how we perform our gender and sexuality. There are a lot of discussions regarding LGBTQ population and how we, the majority heterosexuals where girls dress like girls and boys dress like boys, should treat them. There are plenty of political, religious, social discourses that support or disagree with the idea of homosexuality and LGBTQ population. Is it nature (Is she “born this way”)? Is it nurture? Does one choose to wear something that’s not normal to that specific sex/gender? Can one be “ungay-ed”? Would God approve homosexuals and transvestites?

In the discussions, we often forget some simple truths. We are socially programmed to develop prejudices against something that is out of ordinary and minority, regarding gender role, sexuality, race/ethnicity, whatever. And when things are not quite fitting together, we impose ridicule, hatred and injustice against the minority and feel compelled to push the “abnormal” to become “normal,” because it’s OK to hate those who are not in line with the majority. Before we teach our children (OK, I don’t have any, but the younger generation) what kind of gender one should or should not perform, why can’t we teach them how to love themselves as they are, instead of trying to fit into the social expectations? And why can’t we teach them to love one another because they are different, not despite? After all, everyone is made differently, even minor things like the shape of one’s feet.

When I become a parent, the first thing that I will teach my child would be how to love herself as she is, and I will love her no matter what.

My Amateur Egypt Collection

2 Feb

If you’re a political/international affairs enthusiast or someone who is simply interested in the “Arab world,” Islam, democracy, or someone like me who is interested in little bits and pieces of everything, you probably heard the word Egypt and its current revolution that is perceived as a spillover effect of the recent Tunisia case. After reading some articles and discussing with my friends, I thought it might be a good idea to put some of the articles and such together, just in case you haven’t read these.

My primary sources are of course, my beloved New York Times and Al Jazeera, but I’ve read some blog posts as well with insightful commentaries. Hope to add some more on the list as I go along.

* An NYT article for the Overview

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/world/middleeast/26egypt.html?_r=1&hp

* Video Clip from Tahrir Square

* What is the significance of Tahrir Square anyways?

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/201121103522508343.html

* There are also plenty of Egyptian Bloggers who are part of the movement

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41285248/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/

* Women struggled bravely, too, on the street, online, wherever. These are the photos that are accessible on Facebook (meaning, you need FB account, but I believe most of you do).

http://www.facebook.com/#!/album.php?aid=268523&id=586357675&fbid=493689677675

* “How Not To Say Stupid Stuff about Egypt”- The author is so articulate, especially the part that was saying that some people’s democracy is considered inferior to others’, just because of their religion and culture. So true. I mean, could anybody say that the American or French Revolution was a mere demagoguery (I mean, the previous one wasn’t even that revolutionary anyways- was about the damn taxes!)?

http://sarthanapalos.wordpress.com/2011/01/31/a-guide-how-not-to-say-stupid-stuff-about-egypt/

* Not directly related to Egypt, but this reflects on how the rest of the world sees the “Arab World” with prejudice due to the religious factors severely mixed with political violence. This perhaps goes with the sarthanapalos blog article above.

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112611591745716.html

* Commentary on the Jakarta Post- The author is making a parallel comparison to Indonesia’s 1998 Reformasi against the dictatorship of Soeharto. Pretty interesting to see, coming from a “fellow” Muslim country.

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2011/02/02/commentary-cairo-riots-jolt-our-memories-soeharto%E2%80%99s-fall-1998.html

* Seems like the dictator is not coming back any more after all.

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/02/201121191413252982.html

Please please let me know if you have any comments and other great sources!!!

I wish I were a Lawyer- long way for justice for rape victims in Korea

31 Jan

By now, my dear friends, you already know that I can’t just sit down and write regularly, unless I get inspired and fired up by certain things or I have pressing needs to share certain things about my life with you. But here I am, writing, because I read about this terrible situation regarding justice system in Korea regarding survivors of rape, especially those who are already socially vulnerable, in this case, female marriage migrants. By writing this, I am not saying that I am an expert on any Korean legal issues, and I’m rather not. I’m purely basing my opinion on numerous articles that I read about it.

So I read this article on Chosun Daily, one of Korea’s major newspapers. Sorry that most of you won’t be able to read this, but this is a vague translation of it.

“Mr. Kim (52) was sentenced 7 and half years in jail as he was guilty of raping his Vietnamese wife (26)’s teenage sister (note: Nothing was mentioned that he was accused of spouse rape but it was mentioned that he beat up his wife severely. I’m not sure what kind of charge was pressed against him regarding the violence committed against his wife). The sister, ‘B,’ now 21, was interviewed by the journalist at a very secluded rehabilitation house that she has been staying after her and her sister were found terribly violated by Kim 2 and half years ago (note: yes, it took almost 3 years to find the minimal justice for the sisters). The officer remembers how awful the sisters looked, the older sister with a lot of bruises and the younger one simply filthy and full of fear. The husband conveniently had seizures whenever he had to discuss anything against his position.

B, a petite woman, seemed more like a middle school girl with her young face. She seemed to feel hopeful since she will be going back to Vietnam soon. The head of the rehab said that at the beginning, she always seemed so depressed and told people that she wants to die when she was talking on the phone.

B lived in a greenhouse, and she worked for 300,000 won (about 300 dollars) for her labor in the farm, but Kim took it all. She feared every Saturday when he came to pick her up, because she knew that he would rape her back home. She reacts with extreme fear towards the word ‘hyongbu’ (which is a term for older sister’s husband in Korean), as well as not being able to have conversations with new people and afraid of Korean men.

For the first fetus, after being raped by Kim, she was able to get abortion, and for the second time, she had a baby through c-section. The police said that she was ‘lucky’ that she could get medical care since she was found after the brother-in-law was under police custody. Her sister (Kim’s wife) had to have the children at home without any medical attention.

The journalist asked why B signed the ‘agreement’ with someone who imposed such terrible violence on him (I wondered about it too!). She said that she doesn’t want her sister to suffer from the in-law’s family while her sister is still married, have 4 children, and will probably have to live with the husband when he comes out of jail.”

By now, I said out loud, WHAT THE HECK?!?!? I suppose the domestic violence charge was dropped, and the couple probably signed an “agreement.” I was angry when I read this article about nothing further was done in terms of the violence that the wife had to suffer and what a short sentence he is obliged to serve.

But I realized that I’m probably coming from a privileged woman’s position with high education and much protection (lucky enough not to go through such trauma) where I believe that in facing sexual violence, a woman should do A, B and C. But the truth is that I really don’t know what would happen if my husband/partner was a violent psychotic predator who has the guts to impose such violence on me and my family. Especially for the case of B’s sister, she is in an extremely vulnerable position, perhaps worse than me. I would at least have social protection, friends who are lawyers, activists and therapists, proper connections, access to justice, and for god’s sake, language skill to explain what kind of situation that I had been in, although I would have been physically and psychologically damaged. But this woman, as someone who probably comes from a not so well-t0-do family back home, has limited human connections, knowledge and power to do anything in a society where xenophobia and racism are still largely prevalent. Even if she had the courage to get a divorce out of him, what is next for her for the rest of her life? As mentioned, she already has 4 kids, and she would have to fight for custody. Can she go back home? I don’t know much about Vietnamese culture, but I know Confucian culture is dominant, and she would be stigmatized with a certain notion regarding her status as a divorcee with kids. How would she maintain her livelihood in the future while she probably has not worked for a long time and is not likely to be skilled in anything specific?

Perhaps I’m making a lot of assumptions here, and I may seem like I’m too focused on the victimhood. Yes, I’m so upset about this whole situation, and anyone with common sense should be. But what I’m more upset about this is to see the fact that the current Korean legal/justice system is still not ready to protect victims/survivors of rape, still not looking at it as a serious crime that should be punished more seriously than anything else. It is highly stigmatized, therefore many women still refrain from reporting to the police, and the un-supportive, largely patriarchal system do not take sexual violence as a grave crime which is extremely destructive to a society. It is a depressing cycle. Gender equality –despite the fact that the gender ratio in medical and law schools is roughly about 50:50– is something yet to come in Korea, and according to the US State Department’s Report in 2010, violence against women (mostly rape and domestic violence) is the most pressing issue regarding women’s human rights and Korea’s human rights matters in general (and this happens to be the most comprehensive English sources at the moment for me). According to the report, fewer than half of the 8,746 cases of sexual violence cases were submitted, and fewer than 4,000 were prosecuted. About 40% of married women suffer from domestic violence.

Now, can you imagine how many cases are not reported and/or ignored? What about spousal abuse against migrant women?

Of course, I do not want to undermine the various aspects in violence against women, but in this particular case, it is rather clear that Korean policies and justice system failed to provide proper protection for the women who suffered sexual violence and who are in an extremely vulnerable position as non-native Korean citizens. So what would happen in 7 and half years when the husband comes back out? Will the system really let this man get back to his wife and children while it seems rather obvious that the man is mentally unstable with violent tendency and would not be able to serve his responsibility as a father and a husband? And meanwhile, who is going to watch how the woman and the children will survive from this traumatic experience and excruciating memory? How does Korea prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again?

I’m not suggesting that I can come up with better laws and policies at this moment, especially when matters are so complex. And sexual violence has so many different aspects, that I won’t ever be able to understand the diversity of it fully. But I think there is a value in that we know these awful things happen everywhere in the world and that we should be concerned as, well, human beings.